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December 20, 2002

Does Social Security Screw Blacks?

One propaganda line of the social security privatizers is that, since african americans don't live as long as whites, they are economically exploited by the system. In comments in my recent post on bringing Mexicans into social security, JB argued:

I thought the dirty little secret was that [social security] deliberately screws African Americans - that it is, in fact, a cleverly concealed mechanism for redistributing wealth from young African Americans to elderly white women. I don't understand why there isn't more outrage over this...
Why isn't there outrage on social security screwing black people?

Because it's not true.

Yes, they don't always collect as many regular benefits as similarly-situated whites, but they also benefit tremendously from survivor benefits, disability benefits (SSI), and from the fact that it guarantees a pension at all-- of key importance since blacks are far less likely to have retirement income than whites.

The Institute for America's Future has more here on the issue. A few key points:

African Americans are 12% to 13% of the American population. While it is true that in 1995 only about 8% of those receiving retirement benefits were African American, many more collected pre-retirement benefit. Black children were nearly a quarter of the Social Security survivor beneficiaries paid because a parent was dead. One in five widows or widowers who received benefits while caring for a child was African American. Among disabled beneficiaries, nearly 20% were black.

Social Security's progressive formula, which pays relatively more to those with low incomes than to those with high incomes, is another big plus for blacks, who on average have lower incomes than whites. Privatization of Social Security would change that to their disadvantage.

And even the argument that blacks collect less than their share is based on assuming that blacks will continue to live less long than whites. If we had a decent universal health care system, that difference would rapidly change. Essentially, you have conservatives refusing to fund decent health care for all Americans, leading to blacks and other poor minorities dying off early, then using this as justification for further eroding the social safety net.

It's a neat trick. And based on lies.

As I wrote in a recent Populist column detailing many of the lies behind social security privatization, conservatives make all these arguments but never propose a real bill, because the minute they laid out a real proposal, their lies would collapse once any basic actuarial analysis was done.

As I noted in the article, all privatization proposals "are all based on lies and financial manipulations-- the end result being the same. The deficit increases, average folks lose out, and rich retirees are the only ones who benefit."

Social security is a very good deal for working families in America, as the labor and civil rights organizations that defend it know. Conservatives may try to generate outrage based on lies, but they are not likely to succeed.

Posted by Nathan at December 20, 2002 03:14 PM

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All those blacks (or whites) who worked all their lives, raised their children & died at age 50 appreciate your concern, because their spouse got a nice check of $255 and nothing else.

And should the spouse decide to remarry, that's all they'll EVER get.

Interesting that you didn't even mention this.

Posted by: Ricky West at December 22, 2002 11:08 AM

Not exactly, Ricky West. If the surviving spouse has children under age 16 in his/her care monthly benefits are payable to the children and the spouse (until the youngest reaches age 16). The children would continue to receive payments until age 18.

And should the spouse remarry before qualifying for widows/widowers benefits, eligibility under the new spouse's record is possible, so they aren't entirely left out in the cold as you imply.

Posted by: Amigo at December 22, 2002 01:53 PM

By the way, Nathan, although SSI is administered by the Social Security Administration, it is a separate program not funded by Social Security trust funds. Money for SSI comes out of the general revenues.

Millions of beneficiaries receive Social Security disability benefits. Some qualify for both SSA and SSI disability payments.

Posted by: Amigo at December 22, 2002 02:03 PM

Amigo, that would fall under the "raise their children" part of my comment.

The qualifications are on the ssi page, and my scenario remains unchanged...you're taxed into the system for 30 years, your kids are raised & on their own, you die & your spouse gets $255.

Gee, great for the blacks (who earn less) and their families, eh? We SURELY musn't change the system!!!!!!!!

Posted by: Ricky West at December 22, 2002 06:14 PM

Amigo, thanks for the correction on SSI. I knew that but slipped in typing, mixing Disability and Survivors benefits with the SSI program. Mea culpa.

But as you note-- versus more lies-- those survivors benefits are quite substantial. See here.

"Data from the Social Security Administration (see the Annual Statistical Supplement, 1998) show that 17 percent of all Social Security benefits distributed are survivors and disability payments to individuals under age 65."
That's pretty substantial funds that the privatizers largely ignore in their calculations, both of the costs of privatized systems and in supposed "bad deals" for blacks or other folks.

Posted by: Nathan Newman at December 23, 2002 08:28 AM

Just a couple of clarifying points for you, Ricky.

"The qualifications are on the ssi page, and my scenario remains unchanged...you're taxed into the system for 30 years, your kids are raised & on their own, you die & your spouse gets $255."

SSI has nothing to do with survivors benefits. As I stated in a post to Nathan, it is a separate program based entirely on need.

Did you forget about my comment concerning qualifying on the new spouse's number upon remarriage?

Nathan, you're welcome. Love your site.

Posted by: Amigo at December 23, 2002 05:41 PM

SSI has nothing to do with survivors benefits.

I never said it did. Find another straw man.

Did you forget about my comment concerning qualifying on the new spouse's number upon remarriage?

Nope, I referenced the qualifications. Gonna word parse that one & make up a straw man, too?

If Bill Clinton or George W. Bush were to unfortunately die TODAY, guess how much Laura & Hillary are eligible for under SS guidelines TODAY?

The answer is $255. The same with so many blacks who die much earlier than whites.

Carry on with the 'gotta keep 'em on the plantation' approach, however...

Posted by: Ricky at December 26, 2002 10:14 AM

Why does RACE have to be brought into EVERYTHING these days?

Posted by: Terry C at August 24, 2004 12:04 PM


let me know when you get so concerned about people "on the plantation" that you feel moved to hire five or six people who just had their jobless benefits run out, and offer them full medical and pensions.

Until then, STFU.

Posted by: Captain Goto at August 25, 2004 11:07 AM

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